Right to health at school: Children cannot wait!

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 11:40:50 by


Children below 19 years of age comprise of more than half of the total population of Pakistan. While a whopping 25 million are still out of school, of the remaining 35 million in the school, health issues like stunting and iodine deficiency is reducing their IQ by 5-15 points, reducing their learning capacity and cognitive abilities, as well as increasing propensity of repeated years and drop outs.

UN bodies, CSOs, representatives from Health and Education Departments came together in a rare show of solidarity at a consultative meeting organized by Nur Center for Research and Policy, pledging their commitment towards institutionalization of School Health Programme in the province.

While the Chief Minister’s School Reforms Roadmap has created urgency and a crisis situation of now-or-neverin education, there is no mention of school health component to-date. Currently the school health program comes under the domain of the Ministry of Health, specifically under Punjab Health Sector Reform Program (PHSRP).

‘There is a need for innovation in management of the school health program. The government took an innovative step by working on the multi-sectoral nutritional policy. A similar approach is required to address the issue of School Health’, said Dr Qurat Ul Ain, Nutrition Officer at UNICEF.

Nur Center for Research and Policy (NCRP) endowed by Nur Foundation and the technical arm of Fatima Memorial Hospital, is a policy think tank that offers research, policy advice, technical assistance and capacity enhancement across the health, education and social sectors through a consortium of consultants and public health experts is currently working on a research and advocacy project on evidence generation and advocacy for institutionalization of school health programme in Punjab.

Representatives of civil society organisations attended the consultative meeting. The discussion in the meeting focused on the findings from the research conducted in the province, the existing provincial and strategic frameworks guiding the school health and nutrition program and the inclusion and implementation of laws concerning school health in the current child protection policy and school reform roadmap. Speakers highlighted the impact of parents’ education on the girl students’ enrolment, the significant differences in health and nutrition knowledge and practices between students exposed to a school health and nutrition program and those who are unexposed, and the role played by exposed students in health information dissemination to their families and communities.The need to bring together government, concerned citizens, NGOs and the media was stressed upon. The participants called for shared responsibility of the school health program with both health and education departments, proper HR structures and capacity-building of current school health and nutrition supervisors cadre and utilizing existing sources for so that the aims of both educational and health reforms can be realised.

While civil service organizations are working on increasing enrolment, decreasing drop-out and improving quality of education, no one is focussed on the health component at the school. “Next to home, children spend most of their time at school where they learn the sample that shapes their mind.”

“Securing their (children’s) future is of pertinent importance at this time,” said Iftikhar Ahmed, Former Secretary Establishment, Ex. Dean National School of Public Policy. “We need to ensure that the children stay in school and to achieve that, quality nurturing has to be provided.’

Leaders from across the educational and health spectrum spoke passionately about the health needs of students in schools. They expressed their commitment: towards improvement and institutionalization of the current school health programme and voicing the need of a holistic school health component in place in the School Reform Road Map.  They unanimously lauded NCRP’s work on bridging the evidence gap required for policy changes in this context.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with the government and support their efforts to ensure optimum implementation of school health and nutrition program in the province,” said Mrs.Shahima Rehman, President Nur Foundation and Chairperson Executive Committee, Fatima Memorial System.

Also present at the event were Dr. Hassan Raza, Health Advisor, USAID, Naila Shahid, Health Officer UNICEF,  Professor Humayun Maqsood, Principal Fatima Memorial College of Medicine & Dentistry, Lt. Col. (R) Irfan Sadiq, Area Manager, The Citizen Foundation, Iftikhar Mubarik, Plan International Advocacy & Policy Manager, Vilma-i-Sohotra, Program Manager, Taleem Foundation, Anwar Saeed Khalvi, District Support Manager, Punjab Rural Program, Safyan Jabbar, Pakistan Collation for Education, and Malik Riaz Hussain, Director Public Instructor Elementary Education Department.

Lahore News Sources

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